Inaugural anticipation

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There's an extraordinary amount of anticipation about Barack Obama's inaugural address, due in a few hours. A small sample of the anticipatory commentary: "The speech"; "'The Speech': An Experts' Guide"; "Inaugural Words: 1789 to the Present"; "Obama's Inaugural Address: Great Expectations"; and literally thousands of other articles. We've contributed our mite, in the form of Geoff Pullum's post "Presidential inaugurals: the form and the content", 1/15/2009 (though this belongs to a somewhat smaller body of work, the meta-anticipatory commentary). No doubt after the event there'll an even greater flood of discussion, meta- and otherwise.

I'm scheduled to trek down to a local radio station at 1:15 to try, probably in vain, to invent some sensible instant analysis of the address. Later on, we'll probably offer some less instant (and probably more sensible) commentary on the linguistic aspects of the speech, and on the first few meta-linguistic layers as well.

Meanwhile, I'll take this opportunity to draw your attention to some earlier LL posts on the linguistic history of U.S. presidents' inaugural addresses: "Complexity" 9/7/2005, "Inaugural Embedding" 9/9/2005, "Monroe's Law" 3/6/2007, "Inaugural Americans" 10/9/2008, "Inaugural Americans again" 10/11/2008.

And as Steven Bird reminded us in that last post, the Natural Language Toolkit (NLTK) includes the text of all prior inaugurals as one of its corpora, and allows us to do things like this:

import nltk
inaugural = nltk.Text(nltk.corpus.inaugural.words())
inaugural.dispersion_plot(['hope', 'change', 'freedom', 'duty', 'service', 'crisis', 'war', 'economy', 'health', 'education'])

which produces the following plot of the distribution of those words in inaugural addresses from George Washington to George W. Bush:

(Click on the graph for a larger version.)

We'll have more NLTK inaugural code shortly, and perhaps a bit of comparative phonetic analysis as well.


  1. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 20, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

    I wonder if Chief Justice Roberts' difficulty with saying "will faithfully execute" had something to do with a split-infinitive phobia that may at some point have been inculcated in him.

    [(myl) You may be right: see The Split Verbs Mystery and When Zombie Rules Attack for a discussion of the lessons that may have been beaten into him during his legal training. A very astute observation — this constitutionally-specified presidential oath of office could not be published in a law review that is run according to the Texas Manual of Style as of 1990 or so (as many law reviews are or were)!]

  2. links for 2009-01-20 « Embololalia said,

    January 20, 2009 @ 4:06 pm

    […] Inaugural anticipation (tags: barackobama language speeches) […]

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